‘This is what a tipping point looks like’ said the sign held up by a group of teens, along with ‘Watch out I can vote in 7 months’ and ‘Not Representing Americans’.
Attending the DC March for Our Lives on Saturday was an intensely moving and inspiring experience. As speaker after speaker, all of them children and young people spoke passionately and powerfully about the gun violence that has torn apart their lives, it was impossible not to be deeply impressed both by their courage in standing up in front of almost a million people and their conviction that change was possible.
Is it a tipping point? Maybe. There have been mass campaigns after previous horrific gun violence. After Sandy Hook, many around the world thought that now, surely, there would be changes to US gun laws. It was impossible to imagine that the senseless murder of 20 6-year-olds could not lead to change. But the NRA blocked and counter-campaigned, and any attempts to make even the slightest policy changes were ultimately thwarted.
The majority of Americans support background checks and limits on the ammunition capacity of weapons. That has not changed. What does feel a bit different is that this time, time, the NRA is the brand no one wants to be associated with. Corporate America has, for the first time, taken a principled – not profit-driven – stand against the NRA. Airlines, car rentals and banks dropped the NRA as special rate or discount partners and stopped selling certain rifles within their stores, while a football team chartered it’s plane to take students to the rally, and Lyft offered free rides to marchers. Veterans joined the marches, and a Veterans for Gun Reform video featured on the main screens.
This time, the NRA has suffered reputational damage. With its enormous budget of millions of dollars, and close association with the arms industry, the NRA has had seemingly limitless funds to put into opposing any and every form or arms control. And politicians both domestic and international have been afraid to challenge their power (indeed some politicians remain fearful of losing the NRA’s endorsement and continue to speak out against any and all gun control measures).
But fear is not in the hearts of the young people of Parkland, Chicago, New York, Newtown and many other cities represented in Saturday’s nation-wide rallies. These brave young people were not afraid to directly and unambiguously attack what they see as the nonsensical and self-serving policies of the NRA. They want action, they want change, and they’ve made it clear that they are not afraid to demand it – and, as many have pointed out, vote for it in the near future when they become of age.
Working in international arms control for the last two decades, I have seen the power of the NRA reach even into the halls of the United Nations, where the gun lobby groups come to campaign against the international community’s efforts to reduce armed violence and regulate the arms trade around the world. Some diplomats, even outside the US, have seemed fearful of their reach, and anxious to appease them.
Young people in American have shown they want change, and have turned out in large numbers to demand it. It is incredibly inspiring.
The question now is, are adults brave enough to respond to this call to action?